Steve and the NeXT logo
“The best thing ever to happen to Steve is when we fired him, told him to get lost,” Arthur Rock later said. The theory, shared by many, is that the tough love made him wiser and more mature. But it’s not that simple. At the company he founded after being ousted from Apple, Jobs was able to indulge all of his instincts, both good and bad. He was unbound. The result was a series of spectacular products that were dazzling market flops. This was the true learning experience. What prepared him for the great success he would have in Act III was not his ouster from his Act I at Apple but his brilliant failures in ActII.
The first instinct that he indulged was his passion for design. The name he chose for his new company was rather straightforward: Next. In order to make it more distinctive, he decided he needed a world-class logo. So he courted the dean of corporate logos, Paul Rand. At seventy-one, the Brooklyn- born graphic designer had already created some of the best-known logos in business, including those of Esquire, IBM, Westinghouse, ABC, and UPS. He was under contract to IBM, and his supervisors there said that it would obviously be a conflict for him to create a logo for another computer company. So Jobs picked up the phone and called IBM’s CEO, John Akers. Akers was out of town, but Jobs was so persistent that he was finally put through to Vice Chairman Paul Rizzo. After two days, Rizzo concluded that it was futile to resist Jobs, and he gave permission for Rand to do the work.
Rand flew out to Palo Alto and spent time walking with Jobs and listening to his vision. The computer would be a cube, Jobs pronounced. He loved that shape. It was perfect and simple. So Rand decided that the logo should be a cube as well, one that was tilted at a 28° angle. When Jobs asked for a number of options to consider, Rand declared that he did not create different options for clients. “I will solve your problem, and you will pay me,” he told Jobs. “You can use what I produce, or not, but I will not do options, and either way you will pay me.”
Jobs admired that kind of thinking, so he made what was quite a gamble. The company would pay an astonishing $100,000 flat fee to get one design.”There was a clarity in our relationship,” Jobs said. “He had a purity as an artist, but he was astute at solving business problems. He had a tough exterior, and had perfected the image of a curmudgeon, but he was a teddy bear inside.” It was one of Jobs’s highest praises: purity as an artist.
It took Rand just two weeks. He flew back to deliver the result to Jobs at his Woodside house. First they had dinner, then Rand handed him an elegant and vibrant booklet that described his thought process. On the final spread, Rand presented the logo he had chosen. “In its design, color arrangement, and orientation, the logo is a study in contrasts,” his booklet proclaimed. “Tipped at a jaunty angle, it brims with the informality, friendliness, and spontaneity of a Christmas seal and the authority of a rubber stamp.” The word “next” was split into two lines to fill the square face of the cube, with only the “e” in lowercase. That letter stood out, Rand’s booklet explained, to connote “education, excellence . . . e = mc2.”
It was often hard to predict how Jobs would react to a presentation. He could label it shitty or brilliant; one never knew which way he might go. But with a legendary designer such as Rand, the chances were that Jobs would embrace the proposal. He stared at the final spread, looked up at Rand, and then hugged him. They had one minor disagreement: Rand had used a dark yellow for the “e” in the logo, and Jobs wanted him to change it to a brighter and more traditional yellow. Rand banged his fist on the table and declared, “I’ve been doing this for fifty years, and I know what I’m doing.” Jobs relented.
The company had not only a new logo, but a new name. No longer was it Next. It was NeXT. Others might not have understood the need to obsess over a logo, much less pay $100,000 for one. But for Jobs it meant that NeXT was starting life with a world-class feel and identity, even if it hadn’t yet designed its first product. As Markkula had taught him, a great company must be able to impute its values from the first impression it makes.
As a bonus, Rand agreed to design a personal calling card for Jobs. He came up with a colorful type treatment, which Jobs liked, but they ended up having a lengthy and heated disagreement about the placement of the period after the “P” in Steven P. Jobs. Rand had placed the period to the right of the “P.”, as it would appear if set in lead type. Steve preferred the period to be nudged to the left, under the curve of the “P.”, as is possible with digital typography. “It was a fairly large argument about something relatively small,” Susan Kare recalled. On this one Jobs prevailed.
In order to translate the NeXT logo into the look of real products, Jobs needed an industrial designer he trusted. He talked to a few possibilities, but none of them impressed him as much as the wild Bavarian he had imported to Apple: Hartmut Esslinger, whose frogdesign had set up shop in Silicon Valley and who, thanks to Jobs, had a lucrative contract with Apple. Getting IBM to permit Paul Rand to do work for NeXT was a small miracle willed into existence by Jobs’s belief that reality can be distorted. But that was a snap compared to the likelihood that he could convince Apple to permit Esslinger to work for NeXT.